Japan asks US military to ground Osprey planes after fatal crash

A Japanese Coast Guard ship and helicopter conduct a search and rescue operation at the site where a U.S. V-22 Osprey military plane crashed into the sea off Yakushima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan on November 30, 2023, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory Credit Kyodo via Reuters Obtaining licensing rights

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan said it had asked the United States to suspend all non-emergency V-22 Osprey flights over its territory after one fell into the sea on Wednesday in western Japan, the first fatal U.S. military plane crash in the country. In five years.

The US Air Force said the cause of the accident that occurred during a routine training mission, which killed at least one person, is currently unknown. Search and rescue operations to find the remaining seven crew members are still ongoing.

Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said, “The occurrence of such an accident would cause great concern to the people of the region… We ask the American side to conduct flights for Osprey aircraft deployed in Japan after ensuring the safety of these flights.” In Parliament on Thursday.

Another Japanese Defense Ministry official said that the Japan Self-Defense Forces, which also operates Osprey aircraft, will suspend transport aircraft flights until the circumstances of the accident are clarified.

Speaking to reporters later in the evening, Kihara confirmed reports that the U.S. military was still operating Ospreys, saying Japan’s Regional Defense Office had counted 20 Osprey landings and take-offs around U.S. bases by 3:30 p.m. Thursday.

A spokesman for US Military Forces in Japan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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“Our focus is on the ongoing search and rescue operations, and we pray for a safe return,” Rahm Emanuel, the US ambassador to Japan, said in a post on X.

Media reported that eyewitnesses said that the plane’s left engine appeared to be on fire when it approached the airport to make an emergency landing amid clear weather and light winds.

Developed by Boeing (BA.N) and Bell Helicopter, the V-22 hybrid aircraft, which can land and take off like a helicopter and fly like a fixed-wing aircraft, is operated by the US Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy. Syrian Democratic Forces.

The plane’s deployment to Japan has been controversial, with critics of the US military presence in the southwestern islands saying it is prone to accidents. The United States and Japan say it is safe.

“It is very unfortunate and should not happen at all,” Kihara told reporters Thursday evening in response to a question about his opinion on the incident that occurred in the southwestern region of Japan where most US Marines are stationed.

Japan hosts the largest concentration of US military power abroad, with the country home to the forward-deployed US aircraft carrier strike group, the Asian Airlift Center, fighter squadrons, and the US Marine Expeditionary Force.

In August, a US Osprey plane crashed off the coast of northern Australia while transporting soldiers during a routine military exercise, killing three US Marines.

Another plane fell into the ocean off the southern island of Okinawa in December 2016, the first such incident in Japan, prompting the US military to temporarily ground the plane.

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The last fatal crash of a US military plane in Japan was in 2018, when a mid-air collision during a training exercise killed six people, according to the Ministry of Defense.

(Reporting by Chang-ran Kim, Kantaro Komiya, Tim Kelly and Sakura Murakami; Reporting by Muhammad) Writing by John Geddie. Edited by Kim Coghill, Gerry Doyle, and Bernadette Baum

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Kantaro writes about everything from Japanese economic indicators to North Korean missiles to global regulation of artificial intelligence companies. His previous stories have been published in The Associated Press, Bloomberg, The Japan Times, and Rest of the World. Kantaro, a native of Tokyo, graduated from DePauw University in the United States and received the Foreign Press Club Foundation’s 2020 Scholar Award.

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